Our last Top Engineering Achievements blog featured the impressive Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest railway line in the world built over 100 years ago. In this edition, we look at the International Space Station, where engineering achievements reach new heights (between 205 and 270 miles to be exact!). Don’t have a head for heights? Take a look at our latest jobs, which are usually on terra-firma!
What is the International Space Station?
The International Space Station (ISS) is essentially a habitable space station that serves as a research laboratory in a space environment. It is made up of modules, trusses, solar arrays, and other components.
The first part of the station, Zarya, was launched into orbit in 1998 and in 2000 the first astronauts moved in. Various modules have been added ever since.
The station is divided between the Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) and the United States Orbital Segment (USOS), but is a joint project between NASA (USA), Roscosmos (Russia), ESA (Europe), JAXA (Japan), and CSA (Canada).
It has been continuously occupied for 16 years and has been visited by astronauts and space tourists from 17 different countries. The crew size is usually 6 who stay on the station for an average of 4 – 6 months.
Although the ISS is in space, it is in low earth orbit and needs to be boosted regularly to stay on its path. It even has a phone number with a Houston area code. NES has an office in Houston, but that’s about as close as we get to the space programme!
Changes are planned that will allow the ISS to accept commercial spacecraft in the future, as the face of space travels changes with the likes of SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.
Why was the ISS constructed?
Essentially the facility is used to learn about living and working in space, and the effect this has on the human body. This knowledge is important as it helps future exploration missions. For example, a manned journey to Mars may take 1 year (each way!).
Once more, the agencies involved have learned how to keep a spacecraft in space for a long time, which may be important in the future.
Crew members also conduct experiments in physics, biology, astronomy, and other fields of research. One example is the finding that Bacillus subtilis, a bacterial spore, could survive space vacuums and temperature extremes, raising questions about cross-contamination for missions to Mars if they were ever accidently deposited by a spacecraft. This finding also has huge implications in terms of how life on earth may have arrived here in the first place. Unfortunately NES isn’t recruiting for NASA at the moment (though never say never!) but you can check out our latest life science jobs.
How did engineers contribute to the ISS?
The ISS is arguably the most complex and interesting engineering and construction projects in history. It is the largest structure humans have put into space (roughly the same size an American football field, and weighs 391,000 kilograms), and has been a successful collaboration between engineers from a number of countries. Fifteen different nations from around the world provided parts and assembled the ISS, requiring more than 40 missions.
Built over decades if you go back to the design phase, every component of the ISS was bought in a US space shuttle or a Russian rocket, and then assembled by either robotic arms or astronauts on space-walks (you definitely need a head for heights for this engineering role!).
Organising the construction of a complicated laboratory is difficult enough, but then consider the facts that the ISS is a collaboration between multiple countries (sometimes with different political agendas) and it is in space, orbiting the earth at a speed of 17,500 mph! The ISS is truly a marvel of modern-day engineering, collaboration, and project management, and definitely deserves a place in our top engineering achievements. #EngineersRule!